We arrived late at Little Rock airport in Arkansas, having flown straight from Tucson, AZ following Gila. As we walked toward baggage claim, a fuzzy orange fleece streaked through the crowd and nearly knocked us over with enthusiastic hugs: Katheryn had returned from Europe! We loaded the minivans in the usual game of luggage Tetris and headed to our respective host family homes.
Merry (aka super-soigneur), Bob, Helen and I would stay with Russell Oaks and his family in the more rural outskirts of Little Rock. Little did we know they would soon become our extended family. Bernard had driven from Silver City and was somewhere in Texas. He would join us the next morning, caffeinated to the gills after that drive, no doubt. We phoned Russell, who told us to meet him at a gas station near his house, so he could guide us to the house, as it would otherwise be difficult to find in the dark. As we waited, Bob speculated (in his best southern accent) that Russell would probably arrive in a large truck, maybe with a big hat like the one Bob was now wearing. I think Bob wished he were in a big truck instead of the minivan.
Headlights appeared, and an enormous truck squealed to a stop alongside us with windows down and Russell hollering, "Y'all ready to go?" It was nearly midnight, and we were dead-tired from a long day of travel. However, Russell's enthusiasm already had me psyched for this week's adventures, so I hollered "Yeah!" through the passenger window, pumping my fist in the air.
"Alright let's GO!" Russell took off at warp speed, and Bob didn't hesitate to follow. Bob liked Russell already.
Russell and his wife Margaret made us feel completely welcome in their home, despite us barging in at such a ridiculous hour and exploding with luggage and bikes all over their barn and guest rooms. Russell is as southern as Bob is Aussie and is a huge cycling fan. Margaret is from New Zealand and further rounded out our crazy variety of English-speaking accents; her easy manner and humor had us laughing and talking constantly.
We learned a lot during our stay in Little Rock. Justin Slarks (our good friend and rep with Orbea) showed us the proper method for carrying a live turtle in one's jersey pocket while riding over Arkansas River on the longest pedestrian bridge in the U.S. Margaret let us in on her secret (and unbelievably tasty) oatmeal pancake recipe, which we enjoyed freshly-made each morning (and which has become a staple in my breakfast menu). Russell taught us the most effective hollering volume with which to ward off aggressive dogs in the neighborhood while riding, and we learned that the best steaks in Little Rock are found at the Faded Rose.
Russell and Margaret's two girls, Marie and Christina, also taught us a few things. At three, Marie already exhibits a strong, comic character. When not in a bathing suit, she wore dancing dresses and instructed us on how to wave our princess wands (with a narrow stick, hold gently at one end, swirl and swoosh), how to be a turtle (balance a pillow on your back), and how to properly apply hand lotion (let her do it). Her older sister Christina is a lot of fun and at age nine could already be a professional pancake chef. Christina taught me some sweet dance moves (she is much better at these than me) and a clapping game called "Double double" which requires more eye-hand coordination than I possess.
Joe Martin Stage Race
We raced five stages in four days at the Joe Martin Stage Race. For me, the highlight of this stage race came on Stage 2 at the finish. Webcor has a great reputation as a team of stage racers and climbers, but hasn't yet developed a strong name in lead-outs and field sprints. I say "yet" because we're changing that. After some great practice in the days before the races, we had formulated a good plan for our lead-out. Our Stage 1 lead-out didn't quite work as well as we had hoped, but we learned from the effort. On Stage 2, we were ready for the long flat finish.
We lined up on one another's wheels in the chaos of the finishing straight and wove our way up and through the group toward the front. The focus required for this execution is intense. You have two jobs: the first is to keep the wheel in front of you, and the second is to make it as easy as possible for the person behind you to keep your wheel. This is much more difficult than it sounds, and guarding your wheel requires ferocious determination, which is both challenging and fun. With elbows out, I followed Katheryn's wheel through the mess of bikes and bodies, while Rachel followed mine. When you are so focused on keeping a lead-out wheel, you find new levels of assertiveness and gumption, squeezing through gaps you might not otherwise even consider, finessing your line to make room for the teammate behind you.
Like clockwork, we each took our pull and delivered Rachel to the sprint. She finished third in a field full of pure sprinters. Our little lead-out train seemed tiny compared to the nine and eight- rider trains of Cheerwine and Aaron's, and looking ahead in the sprint, we could see a speck of green surfing in the sea of red jerseys at the finish. We always race for the win, but you can't be disappointed with a podium finish, especially when no one expects you to be there! The great feeling of teamwork in a lead-out is among the aspects I enjoy most about the sport.
From Spandex to Silk
After Joe Martin, Rachel, Katheryn and I stayed in Little Rock again for a couple of nights before driving to Russellville for the Tri Peaks Challenge stage race. Since we'd been living in spandex (clean spandex!) for the last couple of weeks, we decided (rather emphatically, I might add) to ditch the bikes and spandex to have a real girls' day out on the town: no riding, no race talk.
We enjoyed manicures and coffee and went wedding dress shopping for Katheryn, who is getting married this coming November, much to our delight. Being in excellent shape, Katheryn's svelte figure made every dress look absolutely stunning. After glowing radiantly in several gowns, she confessed, "It's going to be really hard to choose my dress. I can picture myself walking down the aisle in all of these, and I'm not the kind of girl who will see a dress and think ‘this is the one.'" We could offer no argument: every dress looked amazing on her.
She stepped into the dressing room again, donning the next gown. As she stepped in front of the mirror, tears came to her eyes. She turned to us and said, "I need to try a veil with this one." She looked absolutely gorgeous, and we knew, as she knew, that this was the dress. She chose a veil, and flushed with emotion, whispered, "This is the one." What a moment to share! As Katheryn made arrangements to buy the dress and have it shipped to California, Rachel and I immediately began texting our teammates the good news: Katheryn found her wedding dress in Little Rock!
Tri Peaks Challenge Stage Race
The courses at the Tri Peaks Challenge are beautiful – lush, varied and challenging. The races are well-organized and showcase the surprising and breathtaking beauty of the Ozarks and the state of Arkansas: smooth, secluded roads wind beneath a lush, majestic canopy of trees and up through abrupt and rugged rocky outcroppings of the Ozarks, while others meander along idyllic rivers and ponds across wildflower meadows and farmland. Those of us racing there constantly marveled at the landscape and at why there weren't more teams knocking down the door to participate. The riding in Arkansas and the Tri Peaks Challenge Stage Race are perhaps the best kept secrets in domestic cycling, and I'd recommend marking it on your calendar for next year!
Katheryn, Rach and I had a great time racing here. We were "unsupported" but enjoyed the full support of nearly everyone at the races. The organizers offered us a ride home after Katheryn's crash, the guys from Team Rubicon (fellow Orbea racers) loaned us a wheel to replace Katheryn's broken one so she could ride home one day, Andy Stone of Shimano made sure our bikes were dialed before each stage, Shane Fendon of Toyota United helped us pump up our disk wheels before the time trial (perfect tire pressure for the win, Shane!), Jim Williams of Colavita offered to feed us from his team car in the caravan when we had none there, and David Rendon (one of the amateur men racing) drove our rental minivan like a pro in the caravan one day to help feed us and get us home from the finish. We were quite grateful for the gracious help of everyone there.
We had a blast racing with no radios, and our results just go to show how well we race together as a team. As soon as I took the lead on Stage 1, Rachel and Katheryn committed themselves to keeping the lead and taking the win. We stacked the top five (Katheryn 4th, Rachel 5th, and me 1st), with a lot of hard work and focus by all three of us. For me, this was another breakthrough race. Bob had half-jokingly told me that I think too much about what to do in a bike race, so at his suggestion, I limited my thoughts to just one: win the bike race. This focus translated to the best race of my life thus far. I won Stages 1, 2, and 4 (one mountain-top finish, one field sprint, and one time trial), and thanks in large part to the tireless and selfless work of my teammates, won the GC.
On another note, if you're ever in Russellville, AR, I highly recommend visiting Sherri's downtown shop, called III's Company. We stopped in briefly to check it out before leaving town. It was a good thing we didn't stop by when we had more time, or we would have had no room in our luggage for everything we probably would have bought! Next year, I'll pack an extra bag just for the shopping.
Thanks for reading,
Go Green Tip #8
This one may seem simple, but it's an easy one to forget: as much as possible, carpool. If you're heading to a bike race, get together with teammates or friends and carpool to the race, or the airport, depending on your destination. Carpooling will make the ride more fun and will reduce emissions, traffic congestion, and not least of all, cost of gas. Another way to stretch that prime money a bit further!
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Amber Rais
- Katheryn Curi, Rachel Heal and Amber Rais enjoy some downtime between races.
- View from the top of Mt. Magazine on Stage 1 of Tri Peaks Challenge.
Images by Bob Kelly
- Webcor Builders spending some quality time at Orbea in Little Rock.
Images by Margaret Campbell
- Rachel, Katheryn and Amber pose with Marie and Christina at their home base in Little Rock.